Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weighing the Options: Alternatives to Round Robin Reading

Psst. I have a confession to make. There was a time when I felt that an occasional “popcorn” around to different readers in the room would do no harm. However, through the years, my thinking has evolved because the evidence against it is beyond persuasive. Research on round robin reading tells us:
  • It slows down reading rates.
  • It lowers the quantity of reading students do. (Research estimates that students actually read between two to six minutes in a typical round robin reading session. Any way you slice it, it’s not much.)
  • It is ineffectual at improving reading comprehension. When reading aloud, pronunciation is emphasized over meaning. In turn, text is often read slowly and disfluently which interferes with meaning making.
  • It is detrimental to fluency because children are often asked to read texts that are too difficult which leads to choppy models of what reading sounds like.
  • It highlights the displeasures of reading leaving children feeling disinclined to pick up books and read on their own.

Yet, in spite of the strong case against round robin reading, over 59% of kindergarten through eighth grade teachers admit to using popcorn reading as a teaching tool in their classrooms. And I suspect that if we had a way of being omnipresent in all classrooms, we’d discover that that there might be a percentage more teachers secretly holding on to this teaching practice. The question we need to ask now is: why?

When asked, teachers cite a number of reasons why they believe in and practice round robin reading but the bottom line seems to be this: Most feel it is their best and only option for coming together around a shared text which means that if we are going to change this practice, we need to provide teachers with better alternatives.

But what would those be?

One option teachers have is to read the text aloud. The benefits of reading aloud to children are well documented. Unlike round robin reading which has many strikes against it, reading aloud has many benefits, including: 
  • It models what expert reading sounds like.
  • It helps kids know and love many different authors.
  • It exposes children to many genres.
  • It actively engages children in thinking and meaning making while enjoying the piece being shared.
  • It conditions the brain to associate reading with pleasure.
  • It creates background knowledge.
  • It builds vocabulary.

Some might argue that reading the text aloud does nothing to build reading volume but when you weigh the amount of time children actually read during round robin (>5 minutes) against the benefits of a read aloud, it seems like a no brainer.

If the issue remains that we want our students to do the reading, then why not have them read it silently? Teachers often worry that student won’t actually read or might not understand what they read. If that’s the case, we’ve got to consider the underlying issues. Are they not reading because they don’t have the stamina they need to get through the text? Are they not reading because the text is too hard? It is only through honest reflection that we are able to answer these questions and in answering them, we inevitably find our way to better alternatives to round robin reading.

When your students need to come together around a shared text, how do you make sure they all get what they need? What alternatives do you propose?


Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek said...

I'm in my first year as a K-12 TAG teacher, and my training and experience is with K-6 students. I feel like I know plenty of alternatives for the younger kids - buddy reading, choral reading, echo reading, but what about for the older kids? I spend 1 entire day per month with the 7th-10th graders, and I try to vary the way I present information throughout the day, and give them a variety of reading experiences, like buddy reading, me reading, reading independently, and the dreaded popcorn reading. Any other suggestions for JH/HS?

Kim Yaris said...

Katie, I've been thinking about you all day and I've been rallying my tribe around your question and this is what we've come up with: We're guessing your biggest concern is accountability. You're probably worried that if you say, "Here is a text and I'd like you to read it" students won't. With this being the case, we need to find fun ways to engage students and make them WANT to read and be part of the reading club in our classrooms. One thing that I've successfully done with adolescent readers is use something called carousel graffiti. Students read the text and then the teacher writes different discussion questions on the paper and students go from paper to paper reading, talking, and writing their responses to the questions. If they haven't read the text, it's hard to be part of the conversation. It motivates students to want to read. Another GREAT strategy that is particularly effective is something called "The Crazy Professor" If you don't know about this, you MUST go to our website ( and go to the tab that says free resources and scroll down to videos. On that page you will find a video called the crazy professor. Several members of our community have tried this with amazing results! Give it a try and let us know how it works!

Gustavo said...

The "read aloud" is so powerful. I started doing read alouds last school year because my school did not have class sets and even so the kids attention was completely on me (Although initially I thought the opposite would be the case). When it was time to put the book down the kids wanted me to continue reading. All teachers should try it!